January 11, 2019
Who will win the Australian Open?
What drama will we see from the very first round?
The answer to the second question is: “Plenty!”
After all, we could be witnessing the last time Andy Murray plays a Grand Slam match when he faces Roberto Bautista Agut.
The Scott’s emotional press conference raised that strong possibility. And unless Murray summons something almost super-human as a last hurrah, he is unlikely to reach round two.
Andy just played Novak Djokovic in a brutal loosener and the Serb won 6-1, 4-1 before they ran out of practice time.
Bautista Agut just beat Djokovic on his way to winning Doha. So the writing is on the wall. But whatever happens, it will be extremely poignant.
There is a chance that last year’s British hot-shot, Kyle Edmund might not make round two either. He has to beat a resurgent Tomas Berdych if he wants to be there.
It is tricky for home favourite Nick Kyrgios too. If he doesn’t hit the ground running then Milos Raonic will take advantage.
Roger Federer will have to start just as aggressively against Denis Istomin, who stunned Djokovic with an incredible second-round display back in 2017.
And Dominic Thiem doesn’t have an easy opener against Benoit Paire, dangerous on his day.
So the first round is one of the toughest in recent memory for some of the big names.
If all the favourites prevail, though, here is how it will look in the quarters:
Djokovic v Nishikori
Zverev v Thiem
Cilic v Federer
Anderson v Nadal
Cracking matches. But is Nadal in strong enough physical condition to overcome Anderson? And is Zverev fit enough to beat Thiem?
I see a Djokovic v Federer final, with Novak edging it.
But remember, Djokovic has looked less than unbeatable of late.
Is there a chance for a new champion to shine? Djokovic is heavy favourite but this isn’t a foregone conclusion.
The women’s game has been impossible to predict in the past year and that’s what makes it so fascinating.
If Simona Halep is to prevail, she has first to negotiate a way round Kaia Kanepi, who has shocked her before. Then Halep might play both Williams sisters before meeting Karolina Pliskova in the quarters and US Open champion Naomi Osaka in the semi-final.
Given that tough route, it seems slightly more likely that Angelique Kerber might lift the title – despite losing to Petra Kvitova in Sydney.
Kerber might face Sloane Stephens in the quarters and then Kvitova once more or Caroline Wozniacki in the semis. But the German has what it takes in the biggest events if she can get that far.
So there we are. I’m taking Djokovic and Kerber to shine when it matters to be Aussie Open champions. But who can confidently predict it this year?
Want a couple of longer shots? As outsiders I’m going for Karen Khachanov in the men’s and home hope Ashleigh Barty in the women’s.
Not-too-long-shots. They could happen too!
No one knows for sure. That’s the excitement of tennis. Let the serious action of 2019 now begin!